Sunday 21 February 2010

The axe-men are coming - soon or sooner

A fierce debate is raging in both the front pages and financial sections of the serious press about when to make spending cuts.

Some - backed by the Tories - argue for immediate action after the General Election to cut the deficit and placate the money-markets. Others - backing the Chancellor - rightly warn that the Tories' 'short,sharp shock' would risk plunging Britain's fragile economy further into recession.

But teachers - and other public sector workers - should not be fooled into thinking that there is any difference between the two camps over whether cuts will have to be made - sooner or just a little later. The 'open letters' from the economists backing Labour simply support the chancellor’s decision to "delay government spending cuts until 2011".

All the main political parties agree that the huge state debts built up by bailing out the private finance sector's toxic loans need to be repaid. Britain has rung up a budget deficit of around 12% of national income. That's not far short of Greece's ratio - a deficit that the bankers are demanding is immediately slashed. Those austerity plans have already led to big protests in Athens and elsewhere - with a 24-hour general strike across Greece set for February 24th.

Will we see the same level of cuts - and protests - here in London? The £75 million cuts just announced by the Tory-LibDem leaders of Birmingham City Council shows what may lie in store. As their Chief Executive announced, "the scale of cuts is likely to be of a magnitude that no one has seen". He's right. Even Thatcher did not attempt to implement the absolute cuts in public spending planned by both Labour and Tories. Nothing like this will have been since the 'Geddes Axe' in the 1920s - and that helped spark the General Strike of 1926!

Of course, many people will believe that there is no option but to cut. But why should we pay for the crisis caused by the 'banksters' greed? Why are they still getting massive bonuses and with a top tax rate for the super-rich of just 50% (compared to 83% for most of the 1970s)? Once the actual effects of the cuts becomes clear - wrecking education and other public services - protests will begin. The vital factor will be the leadership of the trade unions.

If elected to the Executive, I will argue for the NUT to back a call for a massive national demonstration alongside other unions to demand 'No cuts - defend jobs and services' as a preparation for the national strike action that will be required. The SERTUC meeting on March 6th (see post below) will be an important start to widening this debate across the trade union movement in London and the South-East.

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